28 August 2009

Daily Life in Kabul by Mr Mwezi

Sorry I have been slack in writing lately. The last week has been very busy and this week I am on earlies. So lack of sleep and feeling a bit worse for wear has made me quite unproductive after work.
To the question of who is the best candidate - it is difficult to answer as I don’t know that much but on the face of it I would prefer Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai has been in power for over 5 yrs and has received billions of dollars and has done nothing to help the people. Half the people I talk to didn’t vote at all, not due to violence but due to apathy towards all the candidates. Corruption is a very big problem, people see the people in power having everything and helping their family and friends, but nothing is done for the people of Afghanistan. America and the West support Karzai because he has family links to Kandahar in the south which is a stronghold of Taliban resistance. Here is a interesting BBC article on the subject. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8203830.stm
The more I find out the more I think that people want to keep the status quo as they benefit from the money coming into the country. I have heard that people in the government hold talks with the Taliban and pay them not to attack certain areas. It’s like the mafia and as long as the money comes in nothing will change. Karzai also is very close with a lot of warlords that have supported him in his election bid, some of those are well known for their war crimes during the civil war like a former commander that used shipping containers to kills multitudes of people.
America should get rid of Karzai but there is no political will there, its better the devil you know. One candidate stands out for me and that is Ashraf Ghani; google him for information.
But you don’t know about people once they are in power - and it would be very hard to change the culture here.
A huge car bomb in the last few minutes reported at Kandahar 30 people dead, that has been the worst so far. Getting back to the email, I think that the best thing America (the West) could do would be to audit the Afghan government and ask for all the money that goes in to Afghanistan to be accounted for. That would shake a few things up, but I don’t think anybody wants that, as everyone (Western companies) is making money from contracts here. 
Got to go
Mr Mwezi
(I googled Ashrafi Ghani - he went to Columbia university, New York, then he did a Phd in Beirut. He is a Pashtun from Logar. Ed) 

4 swallows make a summer ending

The four young swallows are now flying freely but still coming back to the nest at night. Not enough room really, but they at least fit their heads in. I don't think they realise that their tails are rather exposed.
Roger Morton

Stephen O'R's Oz

                                                                    New South Wales Coast

Here we sit listening to the kookaburras dawn and dusk.  My face is 
covered in ugly sore red welts as the EFUDIX cream attacks the skin 
cancers. Think measles on steroids. A brief respite after Jack's 
trial exams.  Jan has jury duty this week - that will be interesting. 
We told her to wear her biggest AO (Order of Australia ) badge so 
she will get the respect she deserves - you know white collar crime 
cases. The country is soothing and the house survives well on its 
own. Millions of birds, kangaroos, wallabies, foxes, rabbits, snakes 
wombats - and those things that look like a vogue version of a 
hedgehog/porcupine cross. Not too cold so we can have the fire and 
the doors open- heating the world with organic carbon. We are in 
false spring with the blossoms just starting to appear. The jeep 
passed the rego test - the guy went out the back and came back with the brake test results - without going for a drive. What could I say 'oh that's illegal could you do the legal test'. He had just let me 
through with a cracked indicator cover. No, I  took the papers and 
became complicit. I just had a nightmare where I was put in a narrow lift which descended into the bowels of some Government office passing people I recognised who looked warningly at me - including two young aboriginal boys from the 1950's. I think I was in trouble for some passport irregularity and I was being taken to some place where I would be held incommunicado. At this point I'd had enough so I woke up. I think its because of the false brake test - what do you think? If I go back to bed will I still be in the lift? Is this just 
a reaction to the Efudix cream? I thought, but I've looked at all the side effects stuff on four sites and there is no mention of paranoid nightmares. Enuf already.
Stephen O'R


                                       Freya, less than one day old

Natural home birth
It has been 2 months now since I became a mum and it is amazing - everything I'd hoped it would be and more. Our daughter, Freya, is already full of her own special personality and fills our lives with more smiles every day.
We were lucky enough to have a very calm and natural birth in the comfort of our own home. This was definitely down to the fact that we did a lot of preparation. Instead of spending time anxiously worrying about labour we used that time to prepare our selves in both body and mind. Some people say you can never prepare for your first labour or for life with your new baby and to some extent I can see where they are coming from, indeed they are in many ways unimaginable things, but I think the fact that we tried has been of huge benefit. We did a lot of general reading about birth, specifically water birth, in order to familiarise ourselves with the process, and I took plenty of time off before my due date in order to relax and prepare for the big day but also to enjoy the time to myself, which no doubt will be the last I will have for some time now! I really believe this period of relaxation is essential for a calm, natural labour and introduction to motherhood. Working right up until you give birth, which is encouraged now by many employers, seems to only lead to stress - women are left with no time to remove themselves from everyday things and prepare for this most incredible and life-altering event. This can leave them going into labour with unresolved issues and tensions which can often prolong the whole process.
It would seem that a whole 9 months would be enough time to prepare yourself and let go of any concerns - and indeed for some it is, but for the vast majority the reality that we are actually going to have to go through labour and then look after a very small baby, completely dependant on us for everything, only really starts to kick in during that last month or so. In fact there is something that naturally happens during this late stage of pregnancy that makes women want to take this time out from the world and prepare - our bodies need more rest, we find it harder to concentrate on other things, we become obsessed with counting down the days and many of us start 'nesting'.
Driven by our own belief in all this we stumbled across 'Hypnobirthing', a course for natural childbirth created by Marie Mongan in America. It is based on Dr Dick Read's 'Fear, tension, pain theory' - i.e. that fear of something leads us to tense up against it resulting in pain. Hypnobirthing, through special relaxations, positive affirmations and breathing techniques, helps you recondition your mind away from thinking of labour as a horrendous, painful, medical experience, so that you are able to approach it calmly, and in control. This control is a big part of the technique - it really aims to give back to women and their partners control of their birthing experience. This control is so easily taken away by hospital staff turning it, often unnecessarily into a medical event. Of course there are situations where medical attention is needed and we are lucky that these interventions are available to us, but too often normal labour is interfered with, resulting in further problems.
This needs to be changed, because in normal circumstances women CAN do it themselves - I know because I did and thousands of other women have done it too! Many would say why bother doing it naturally and going through the 'pain' when you can have drugs or c-sections - and the answer is because this is what our bodies were made to do. There is something incredible that happens when you are in the throes of giving birth, which you can only truly experience if you can feel it fully and let yourself go - indeed the more you give yourself over to it the more the 'pain' is reduced. It is so special for a woman to have this experience  of natural birth that if she can, I think she must - it is her right beyond the modern day restrictions of our society. This is something women have felt for thousands of years and it is so amazing that in this high-tech world we live in, a woman can still have this raw, real and natural experience.
Hypnobirthing promotes all this and gives women the confidence to take back their control. This means that even if the labour does not go as anticipated the woman and her partner are involved in all the decisions and come out of it feeling happy with their experience. This is so important as many women feel scarred by their labours - and because of this, feel the need to share their horror stories with other women and so the fear is perpetuated
I know that this technique can work because it worked for us. It was definitely as a result of this course that we were able to have Freya at home, in our birthing pool, within 8 hours, and with no pain relief. The fact that Matt and I did 6 hours of the labour (happily) by ourselves - the midwives only arriving for the actual birthing - is a credit to our hypnobirthing preparation.
Anna Morton


I'm here.
I have nothing.
To miserable to move. Had a 2 day tummy bug, lived, slept on the toilet. Sure no one wants to hear about it.
Ps there's no such time as 7.75

Plus the computer is cracking up.

27 August 2009


A woman Henry VIII wanted
to make his wife
is reported to have replied
'If I had two heads I would,
but as I have only one,
I will not.'
When Maria Callas
was asked to sing
La Traviata after Macbeth
she said, 'I am not 
an elevator, Mr Bing.'

Now women in power
think nonsense is humour
as the rich get rich
and the poor get poorer
money and business is what they adore
and laughter fell through a crack in the floor

by Joselyn Morton                                                        


Queen bees

...the continuing story of The Trouble with Queens ...
Well, a worker bee only lives for 6 weeks - and sometimes less, depending on how hard it has to work in the field. So in its short life, it only eats pollen and nectar for this limited period. However, a queen bee lives for up to two years, and while a queen larva is growing in its cell, it is fed far more food than a worker larva. So if pesticides are present in the pollen and nectar which is used to feed a developing queen-larva, it will bio-accumulate far more pesticide than a worker-larva.  The levels may still be sub-lethal but since these are neuro-toxins, they affect the nervous system and brain first - which control all complex queen-activities such: as the mating-flight, navigation to and from the hive, mating on the wing, laying eggs and so on. Moreover, the nervous system controls the production of pheromones by the queen, which affect all activities in the hive.
The queen bee regulates virtually all the activities of the hive through her production of queen-pheromones, sometimes called 'queen substance'. In reality the 'queen substance' is made up of a dozen or more distinct pheromones, each of which plays a vital role in the governance of the hive.  One vital pheromone for example suppresses the urge of the worker bees to produce queen cells - and hence make new queens; as the queen gets older, she produces less and less of this substance and at the same time, the population of the hive increases to perhaps 50,000 workers - so there is less and less inhibiting chemical to go around.  When the 'queen-cell-inhibition' pheromone drops below a certain threshold, the workers cease to be repressed and they suddenly start to make new queen cells and new queens.
However, if the queen loses her potency in terms of any of the 20 or so pheromones which she creates and distributes in the hive, the bees will sense that 'somethng is wrong' and they may kill and replace her.
In addition, if the queen's nervous system is damaged in any way that affects her behaviour, her egg-laying pattern for example - the bees will kill and replace her.
There have been reports from France and from America that while bee-colonies have died by the thousands in areas where pesticides are routintely used on sunflowers, oilseed rape, almonds, apples, peas, beans and so on - there have been virutally no bee-losses in areas where such pesticides are not used: forests, heather-moorlands, offshore islands, mountain districts.
I recently read about a beekeeper called Andrew Abrahams who keeps native black bees on the remote island of Colonsay in the inner Hebrides:
http://www.colonsay.org.uk/ Do take a look at his website

Open-mic night (scene-ouverte)

Husky voiced Dottie Bart singing jazz numbers with the mysterious and brilliant English pianist Neil, who appeared out of nowhere to play at the tiny restaurant La Gavotte in the equally tiny town of Riberac. Evidently, he is now touring Australia with his own jazz band. When I track him down I will gladly pass on his name because he is a very good pianist. This night was particularly magic. There was a woman (part of a duo) who sang swing jazz with clever phrasing that almost defied gravity. Then there was the Quentin Tarantino giant-of-a-man with a colossal voice, no backing and the ability to melt one's bones. There was a group of young lads that played their hearts out. And there was attentive staff that somehow looked after a large crowd until one o'oclock in the morning
La Gavotte holds an open mike night on the first Saturday of the month. I can't wait to hear Dottie sing Dirty Old Town again.
Joselyn Morton

Short Story

                             Rangitoto Island  from Milford beach          Roger Morton

Thrill Kill by Joselyn Morton
The ocean was on Melissa’s doorstep. She often wandered down to the water’s edge. The regularity of the wild blue waves stopped her thinking. She admired their devotion to the wind, the moon and the tide. The pounding waves soothed her, then hypnotised her. It suited her better than meditating.
            The rest of the city of Auckland was no day at the beach. In other suburbs  the old wooden villas had their backs to the sun and sat in their own shadows. They were freezing in winter and hot as ovens in summer.
Melissa was planning her fortieth birthday party. This birthday was a watershed. The dividing line between youth and old age. She had to decide between sexy elegance at Toto’s, smart trash at the Verona or the instinctive hands of Antonio at the Colosseum. Perhaps she should go for motherly martyrdom - book caterers and have it at home.Unlike her, most of her old friends were bordering on broke. They would probably prefer a hundred-dollar note in an envelope with a card saying, ‘have a drink on me’. Maybe that wasn’t a bad idea.
            Apart from her kids’ birthdays, this was the first party Melissa had ever planned.  Her parents had organised her wedding. By the time her twenty first rolled round, she was pregnant and had no intention of flaunting the fact, or the fat. The other birthdays had flicked by uncelebrated. Wedding anniversaries had stopped before they got to double figures
            Dave’s strength had been in the gene pool department. They had three kids - bang, bang, bang. His weakness lay in the ‘saying no’ department and when Melissa found him shagging the office secretary on one of her rare visits to town, she suggested that he didn’t bother coming home. To her amazement, he agreed. Suddenly her life changed out of all recognition.
            If Sally hadn’t started screaming in the car that day like she’d been dropped in the blender feet first, the rest would not have happened. Melissa had stopped the car to feed her before she realised  she had unwittingly parked outside Dave’s office. Impulsively she decided to pop in.
            So she caught her young husband in flagrante delicto. She remembered ‘delictum’  from sixth form Latin. She had thought then that it sounded like a delicious icecream that you wanted to lick down to the cone. But it came from ‘delinquere’ to do wrong.
            For one hate-filled second she wished her husband in Hades hell. She wanted to hit the secretary with something hard - a spade, a hammer, but her arms were filled with Sally. Sally had stopped screaming and was now sucking. Like father, like daughter thought Melissa in a detached fashion, which was to signify her thinking for the next fifteen years.
            As for telling him ‘not to bother coming home’ she had no idea where that thought came from. It popped into her mouth, by-passing her brain and bingo, she was a solo-mum with three kids.
            The following five years passed in a haze of sleepless nights and messy  breakfasts. Sometime during that nightmare Melissa had a brainwave that became a small business empire. One of Melissa’s few skills was knitting. That and playing the piano. She stopped teaching music when she realised that there were women all over New Zealand who could knit her designs.       
            Once she had bought her first computer, Melissa knew she was onto a winner. She set up a core team of knitters from Kaitaia to Te Anau. She found embroiderers in half-empty convents and Dutch communities. She hired two computer experts and a live-in housekeeper. She flew to New York regularly and her designs were snapped up. The orders poured in. She even had the occasional fling.
            In the time it takes to yell coitus interruptus, Dave and the secretary had moved to Sydney. The three kids were veteran fliers before they were toilet trained. Dave wasn’t short of cash and such was his guilt that he was generous with his monthly child support payments.
            Melissa hadn’t set out to get rich. Keeping three tiny kids from cannibalising each other took all her energy. She was in a marathon of motherhood with no beginning, end or middle. She was knackered to the back teeth, worse than a disposable Pyramid labourer - trapped in a tunnel of broken nails, unshaven legs, forgotten, suppurating rubbish and floors covered in lego and playdough.
            Suddenly she was in overdrive. She could do nothing wrong. Her women could knit faster than the speed of light. Her wool suppliers couldn’t keep up. She had vaguely heard the words ‘go for the top’. So she did. Zambesi loved her designs and the rest of the expensive boutique cartel fell into line.
            Like everything else in Melissa’s life, the whole knitting thing snowballed.  She was putting the kids on a plane to Sydney when she had the overwhelming desire to take a trip to the States. With the ingenuity of a novice, she had her first American order within two days of flying into New York.
            Faced with the complexities of American officialdom, she contacted a cousin of her mother’s. He was happy to unravel the red tape so that Melissa’s expensive line of knitwear could be imported. Until all the paperwork was in place, Melissa would arrive with her suitcase discreetly padded with her gossamer creations.
            She’d deliberately gone for the top end of the market. Delicate one and two ply woollens in dusky, tea-rose tones transported the buyers into a time of forgotten spidery, cobweb stitches and complex whimsical patterns. They loved her collection of long, wispy, hand-beaded scarves and jerseys whose fronts were a myriad of beads and sequins that caught the light and bounced it back in dazzling shimmers of glamour. Luckily, she hadn’t gone for zany, heavy sweaters with hot, wild colours that were too big to fit in her case.
            Eventually she realised Dave had done her a back-handed favour, releasing her from wedded bondage. He had also permanently released her from trust. No matter how fond she was of her latest  lover,  she always held back. She couldn’t go all the way. The whole emotional gauntlet.
            For a while she dabbled in excessive alcohol, seeing that as the doorway to oblivion where true love lived. But one pain-filled hang-over too many, decided her that she and alcohol had foxtrotted their final fling together. So even if she couldn’t bury herself in the love of a good man, she had the kids and she had buyers in Paris, Amsterdam, London and New York.
            She thought things might work out with Joseph, her New York lover - mainly because he made her laugh. He was trying to make it as a screenwriter. The Fifth Avenue apartment he lived in was the size of a walk-in wardrobe. He clung fanatically to the kudos of this prestigious address and paid the rent by writing reviews.
            Melissa accompanied him to Openings whenever she was in town. Then he’d take her home and screw her silly. In this comedy of manners, every inch of floor space had stacks of video tapes propping up scripts ready to topple. Joseph manoeuvred his home life with great skill.
            Waving aside life rules of personal hygiene, Melissa never tested the dubious qualities of his ancient shower. It was above the toilet and she could see some agile athleticism would be required to hit the spot.  Washing one’s oxter (A word acquired after visiting Edinburgh.) required the complexity of mastering the lotus position while in a state of perpetual grace. Feeling dirty and smelly in Joseph’s company became normal.
            When she mentioned to him that she knew a Kiwi cameraman working on Costner’s next film, Joseph badgered her till she agreed to give him Joseph’s latest script to read. It was the definitive cowboy movie that only a good Jewish boy from the Bronx could write.
            Bad move. Joseph had spent three years researching Wyat Earpe. On her next trip to the City of Dreams, where angels never tread but wait on tables instead, she  passed on the script. Months later, when she read in Variety that Kostner’s next film was to be a cowboy movie, she rang Joseph to congratulate him on the good news. Sadly he never returned her calls and slowly the penny dropped that Joseph had been left out of the loop. She tried to contact her cameraman friend but he was somewhere in Africa. Two weeks later she flew into New York and hung around the Russian Tearooms and the New York Deli but Joseph eluded her efforts to track him down and she accepted she’d been dumped for an imagined duplicity.     
            Paris was her favourite city. Claudia, her eldest, was studying there. Lunchtime, they would stroll to La Palette. Melissa applauded the hedonistic French for defying their heads of business and hanging onto their leisurely two-hour lunch. Their waiter made waiting tables an art-form. Contrary to Kiwi folk-lore he was neither arrogant nor rude. Just sexy.       
            Afternoons, she drifted round the Left Bank. Sometimes she found herself on the Pont Neuf, her hand caressing the cold, rounded surface of the Art Nouveau metalwork. Even the glassed-in tourist boats didn’t dispel the magic as they glided past on their wide bottoms.
            Paris was everyone’s dream of a city in love with itself.  A fast taxi ride to Charles De Gaulle airport and Melissa was back home on the wave-washed sands of Auckland.
            Jade was as different from Melissa as two creatures of the same species could be. Jade didn’t like anything about herself except her name. Hard and green and precious. No, not hard. Staunch. Jade was bred to be staunch like a fine racehorse is bred for speed, stamina and intelligent responses. Jade had ‘staunch’ ingrained and embedded into her psyche.
            Unlike Melissa’s childhood on the beach side of Takapuna, Jade grew up in the narrow strip of street that is Port Chalmers. A few miles separate the neglected port from the intellectual buzz of the university town of Dunedin. Yet they might have been separated by an iron curtain.
            Port Chalmers lies on the dark side of the hill, the houses struggling to fit into the thin space allowed them between the cliff and the shore. Across the blue sea lies the Otago Peninsula. It sparkles like an unattainable fairyland. No whores or tarts or useless scary drunks on that sun-lit side.
            Jade’s father was a seaman in the true sense of the word semen. She never met him. He was just passing through in a rush of fluid when he encountered her Mum in the dark, wet patch outside the pub. Early on Jade discovered that it wasn’t wise to get on her mum’s nerves, to get her goat. By the time Jade had learnt to walk, the barriers between pain and pleasure had blurred.
            The last time her Mum belted her, Jade was twelve. She was in the phone box  ringing a mate. Her Mum was too flabby and fat to fit in, she simply reached in, grabbed the phone and started smashing Jade round the face with it. Jade wore her blue woollen sweater for the next week before she was able to take it off, past her blue swollen face.
            While her face was healing, Jade broke into an empty student flat. When the students got back from their term break, they eventually sussed out that no one actually knew who Jade was. They then twigged that she didn’t have any money for food or rent and they booted her out. No one knew she was only twelve. She looked older.
            That weekend, she persuaded Billy, another kid who hung around the Octagon, to hitchhike with her to Christchurch. They survived there for eighteen months in a turgid cocktail of shoplifting, stealing, glue sniffing and swapping sexual favours. Violence was all around but they watched out for each other. One night, in the pool hall, Billy got stabbed for looking at someone the wrong way. He died in Jade’s arms.
             The joker who stabbed him laughed  and said, “shit, that’s my best thrill kill yet.” He roared off on his bike with his mates and the noise of their engines exploded inside Jade’s head until she thought it would bust open like a rotten tomato spilling its rancid bile in a pile of poisonous pus.
            That night as Jade lay shivering in a doorway, those two words, ‘thrill kill’ sang in her head above the noise of the heavy traffic and she couldn’t blot or bang them out.     
            From then on, Jade was dead inside her head and she waited for the other bits to die too. She began to do deliberately mean things. Not for a laugh. She did them because she could.
            By the time she was fifteen, she was as tall as most blokes and as strong. She didn’t give a shit about anything. The only emotion she recognised was pain and it was as familiar as the memory of someone she might have once known. Or been. She swallowed everything she could to blank out the thoughts inside her head. She would drink and sniff anything to make the voices shut up.
            A few months later some wild Skinhead bitches gave her a ride to Auckland. They stopped at a takeaway joint before they got to the centre of the city. Unnoticed, Jade picked up their change and took off. Clutching her hamburger, she crept into an empty building site. When she woke next morning, she was stiff and shivering with cold even though the space around her was already flooded with bright daylight.
            A builder had dropped and lost a chisel and it lay between the timber and the pile of discarded tarpaulin where Jade had slept. Yellow innocent sunlight was reflected in its shiny blade. She picked it up and started carving her name into a piece of timber. The chisel slipped and sliced the back of her thumb and blood gushed out.
            “Shit that’s sharp.” Jade slipped it into the pocket of the old leather jacket she had removed from Billy before they took his body away. The chisel was solid and comforting. By the end of the morning it felt familiar. Like a friend. Soon her fingers had memorised the shape and length of its handle and the sharpness of its blade.   
             As she wandered along the main street in Kingsland, she recognised a familiar strong smell  that indicated a baker who still sold food whose names she knew - sausage rolls, meat pies. If she was lucky, they might even have a bin of yesterday’s left-overs.
            Melissa didn’t notice Jade until Jade was almost on top of her. She had lunched with a friend who had a furniture shop in the High Street. He fancied himself as a psychic and for her birthday he was plotting her astrological chart.
After lunch Melissa stopped to buy baguettes and a bag of croissants from the specialist bread shop. That was part of the reason she didn’t anticipate what happened next. Her arms were filled with loaves of bread. They blurred her peripheral vision. As Jade dug the sharp chisel into Melissa’s side, sliding it up between her ribs and nicking her heart in a gush of warm blood,  Melissa thought she had had a heart attack (and so she had. And so she had.).
            She saw the chisel slicing for her again and she looked into the green depths of the hard cold eyes of her attacker. Melissa began to slowly slip towards the ground. Still clutching her loaves, thinking what a ridiculous way to die. Only the fish and wine were missing.
            She tried to lift her hand with its long, elegant fingers that could almost span two octaves. It seemed so white. Translucent. Already it was the colour of the paper that she fed into her printer. Her hand wasn’t getting closer, she was wafting further away. It was hard to believe she was still a part of herself, she was imploding like Alice and finding it impossible to stay centred in her being.
            She saw the tumble of roses in her garden, old-fashioned, perfumed blooms that released their fragrance if you brushed against them. She could see her two daughters, Jessie and Sally laughing as they took their togs off the line. She focused on them with total absorption. The boundaries of her intensity radiated in a path of escalating influence. She fought the normal assimilation that would reduce her energy.  
            Incongruously she remembered some flip New York anti-feminist jibe, something about ‘how can you trust someone who bleeds every month but never dies.’ It was not appropriate.
            The girl who had attacked her looked so strong, like a warrior princess you couldn’t kill with an axe. Melissa reasoned there had to be a mistake and whispered to the young woman, “please help me”.        
            Jade’s being was infused with the power that was coursing through her. The pure pleasure of the sensation, a thrill like an electric shock halted her for a second. She heard the woman that she had staked and shafted with the chisel ask her something.
            Remembering Billy, she bent down and knelt in the sticky blood. Clumsily, she cradled the woman in her arms and as she did so, she broke off the end of one of the loaves and bit into its crunchy crust. Her world-weary, young mouth welcomed the soft, white insides. The smell of the fresh bread was intoxicating. Her stomach rumbled with pleasure. She sniffed appreciatively. The woman smelt good too.

Camels in the Sinai Desert

In a barren desert of rock, on the way from Eliat to Sharm el Shiekh camels decide to cross the road. We had to stop the rental car that I was driving, and give way to the camels, so I could take a picture.
Roger Morton

22 August 2009

Daily Life in Kabul by Mr Mwezi

Yesterday (Wednesday 19th August) worked all day to avoid roads during daylight. Woke up late today and have been in operations room. I am now relaxing but am on standby to respond to any event that may take place . Election day today has been relatively quiet with no deaths in Kabul so far, but last few days have been busy with car bombs etc. First car bomb at ISAF HQ smashed windows here at our camp but was over 350m away. I am fine and will email more once things have died down a bit (excuse the pun). Mr Mwezi

Thanks but no thanks

Well thank you very much Hilary Clinton, first and best witness for the prosecution at Iran’s show trials of more than 200 reformist leaders and protesters arrested in the aftermath of Iran’s disputed presidential elections. For months President Obama had refused to comment on the events in Iran, wisely sticking to the position that this was an internal Iranian matter. This did not stop the Iranian regime torturing several high-profile supporters of the presidential candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and putting them on TV in a mass trial.There, one obviously emaciated defendant after another ‘confessed’ to having had links with the US and that the US was behind the protests which had erupted on the streets of Iran after it was announced that the Ahmadinejad had won another term as President. Claims that the defendants were threatened and tortured to produce their confessions were widely accepted. The world protested. Then, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton went on CNN and stated that the US had helped the protesters behind the scenes. She was talking about the US State Department‘s role in persuading Twitter to delay essential maintenance work so that Iranians could stay online in order to organize and spread information. But, she appeared to be claiming more, and the Iranian regime jumped on it as confirmation that the protests were in fact, orchestrated from outside the country. It was all that Tehran needed as positive proof that those on trail were guilty of treason – a crime that carries the death penalty in Iran. On Thursday (20th August) Iran's chief of police Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam claimed that “the self-incriminating statements issued by opposition figures in court were not made under duress”. He then said "Some say that the police has extracted confessions by force, but I tell them ‘No-one has extracted confession out of Mrs. Clinton, yet she reveals all issues freely.’ Many of those on trial had incriminated Mir-Hossein Mousavi and another defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi as well as former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as being behind the unrest and being agents of foreign powers. Iran has charged a French woman, two Iranians working for the British and French embassies in Tehran and hundreds of Iranians, with spying and aiding a Western plot to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

Clotilde Reiss, a French citizen (see photo above) was charged with "acting against national security by taking part in unrest ... collecting news and information and sending pictures of the unrest abroad." A British embassy employee, Hossein Rassam was charged with espionage and confessed to giving information about the unrest to Washington and London. But the trials are not really about the 200 people already paraded in front of the cameras, they are just setting the scene for a bigger play. There is a fundamental rift at the heart of the Iranian regime, with Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, in the hardliners’ corner and Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami in the liberal, reformist corner. Many analysts and ordinary Iranians believe that Ahmadinejad is just warming up, that he hates Rafsanjani with a passion that is irrational and very personal and that he intends to do everything in his power to bring Rafsanjani to court. Many fear he is thinking the unthinkable, the execution of one of Iran’s most powerful men for treason. But the game is far from over. Rafsanjani is indeed one of the most powerful men in Iran and one of the most cunning. He is bound to fight back. What happens next will be, not only fascinating but will shape the future of Iran for generations.

Cherry Mosteshar is a journalist and Director of the Oxford Editors (www.theoxfordeditors.co.uk) an international manuscript assessment, editing service and literary agency which is based in Oxford.

From Fringe to Free

‘The best-laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley’ - These words from the poem To a Mouse written by Scotland's national bard Robert Burns in 1785 are as familiar as a proverb. A rough translation from the Scots is ‘no matter how well you plan things, they can often go belly-up’ … as did some of my plans at the Edinburgh Fringe this week. Some shows I had planned to go to were either sold out or it was the company’s day-off or the timing of one show clashed with another. One of these was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which was on at the magnificent Assembly Hall. Love the chandeliers. In the publicity pack there was a quote from a reviewer "you won’t see a better performance on stage in Britain right now than that delivered by Anna Francolini as Jean Brodie - simply mesmerising". But what about the schoolgirls, and in particular Mary McGregor? The next review (two star) also praised Anna Francolini's portrayal of Miss Brodie as "a virtuoso performance, but unfortunately she finds herself at the centre of a mediocre production ….too often it resembles St Tinian's with awkward caricatures of naughty schoolgirls giggling about sex and a headmistress reduced to little more than Presbyterian stereotype". Undaunted, I still intended to catch the show. However, in the same venue, at the same time but in the even more sparkly Music Hall, the septuagenarian King-of-the-Chat Shows, Clive James, was presenting In Conversation, with his guest of the day Edinburgh author, Irvine Welsh. My dilemma was whether I should spend two hours with Miss Brodie's girls or an hour listening to the author of Trainspotting baring his soul about the gruesome exploits of junkies in the seedier parts of Edinburgh. I opted for the latter (five star). It was a fascinating hour with the conversation ranging from Irvine's passion for a decent housing policy to his suggestions as to how women can shatter the ‘glass ceiling of management’. Clive James then ventured into a flight of fancy by asking Irvine whether The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie could be staged in the style of Trainspotting? I can just imagine the casting: Sandy could take on the role of Mark ‘RentBoy’ Renton (the anti-hero of the novel) Mary McGregor would be Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy (the naïve and childlike whipping boy). And Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (the violent sociopath)? A perfect role for Miss Brodie herself. My own flight of fancy was visualising The Chippendales (apparently going native and wearing kilts for the first time). None of the lads can be true Scots, though - whoever saw a Scot dancing and sexily stripping off his sporran simultaneously? Last year a Fringe venue was specifically set up for musicals, The Musical Theatre at George Square and this year they have a very full programme which includes 22 musicals, 72 late night cabarets and 40 master classes. Shows which caught my eye were Bloodbath - The Musical, Chat! The Internet Musical! Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, Honk! Murder Mystical Musical, and Porn - The Musical! Enough singing and exclamation marks to keep the most ardent musical lovers busy throughout the three weeks of the Fringe. Courtesy of writer Malcolm Galea, I managed to squeeze Porn - The Musical (see photo above) into my last night in Edinburgh. With characters such as Martin Scorsesleazy, bra-bursting Sanddy-with-a-DoubleD (wink, wink), and Dr Johnny Long PhD (Pretty Huge Dick) the show had more innuendo than a Carry On movie - and none the worse for that. It was a fun evening, bolstered by a live band, energetic dancing, and some good singing. Going to an average of 8 shows a day at the Fringe can be costly. Ticket prices have rocketed in recent years (partly because of the prohibitive costs for companies to hire a venue for an hour). So in 2004, the concept of a Free Fringe was launched, aiming to make the Fringe more accessible and less expensive for both performers and audience. This year there are more than 3,000 free performances taking place in 14 venues (usually back rooms of pubs).They promise everything from ‘teenage comedians to senile strippers and all you can imagine in between. An actor called Guy, who reminded me of a young, nervy Woody Allen (but dark-haired and better-looking) is performing on the Free Fringe and happened to be staying in my Edinburgh flat. He was so thrilled and enthused about having a show at the Fringe that I felt obliged to go along on the first night to see it. My friend Tessa had just arrived from London and when I told her the name of Guy's free show was How to Pull and that it was ‘interactive’ she was quite happy to toddle along with me to the Piano Bar, no tickets required. Sadly, Tessa and I were the entire audience. Guy, being young, was not even slightly nonplussed and confidently treated us to ‘the art of pulling’. At the end of the 60- minute show Tessa and I sauntered along Princes Street fully prepared to try out the tricks as revealed to us by Guy. Neither of us pulled. ‘the best-laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley’. Mary Kalemkerian is Head of Programmes at BBC’s Radio 7

21 August 2009


So, here I am again at the Edinburgh Festival. My middle section is becoming softer and rounder from imbibing impressive amounts of beer every night and I fear I may be developing scurvy from the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in my diet.

I don’t know what it is about the festival but it always seems that eating healthily is tantamount to treason. Get caught eating raw carrots and you’ll be vilified at every corner.

If you’ve never been, you should really go. It’s the biggest arts festival in the world (its nearest competitor is in Edmonton, Canada, but is only approximately 1/3 of the size). There’s literally nowhere else like it on earth.

For most of the year, Edinburgh’s population is 500,000. During the festival, this literally doubles as people seep into every nook and cranny to perform, to live and die with every show. This year there’s just under 3,000 different performances. That’s a whole lot of on-stage death and re-birth.

Some say that the locals hate the festival but I don’t agree. I think what they hate is having to move back in with their parents for a month so that they can let out their flats. For a month. C’est la vie. Tee hee hee.

This year, I’m working on two shows - the charming and intelligent Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective and the wonderfully bizarre Hans Teeuwen. Both of the shows have garnered 5 star reviews, which I reckon are well earned.

Being a show-manager for comedians is, I imagine, somewhat akin to being a mother duck … that is if the mother duck had to constantly re-assure her ducklings about ticket sales, crowd responses and that yes, indeed they would grow into beautiful swans that could play a 1000-seater. Quack quack indeed … and then I shake my tail, adjust my dislodged, chick-pecked feathers and dive below the water for a bit of peace and quiet.

Laura Clarke


Naughty French underwear
She blew into the room 
a bloody Pacific breaker
cool wild and free 
a breathe of fresh air 
in her naughty French underwear 
Thirty years later 
the impact her entrance had. 
Her memory etched on his soul 
a favourite photograph 
her carefree laugh 
revitalising him 
over the years 
his friends turned 
into little old dears 
their tired tears 
at the funerals where they meet didn't warm him at all. 
by Joselyn Morton


My inspiration has been running dry lately. So so worried about what's going to happen with my son for the next university term. This is all that's on my mind lately; may as well share. He has just completed his first year at Imperial College studying biology, did brilliantly, ending up with an overall mark that was just 1.75% off a 1st. We're all terribly proud, but here's the thing. Although he has a British passport, as he's never lived in the UK before this year,( having been born in NZ, then having spent the last few years in France), he's counted as an EU student, and as such, does not qualify for a maintenance grant. Last year he was covered by the French system, but as I now live in the UK, his entitlement no longer exists. As I am not currently working, next year is looking grim. He is falling between the cracks of the system, and I'm unclear of where to turn. If only I had moved back here directly when my husband left me, as I wanted to do, this would not be happening, as we would have been resident for the last three years. But I really was reluctant to disrupt his studies, the break-up was rough enough. I had promised him when we moved to France, on the urging of my French husband (who consequently left me for a clone of his mother a year later) that this would be it. Now what? I am searching through student finance websites every day, but the funding is so specific, he doesn't seem to fit. And it would be nice to get through to a human being at some point, rather than ticking boxes that just send back a reply..."there are no available options to your search." I have also tried contacting the Maori Education trust in NZ, plus the Kohanga Reo where he started his schooling at age two...Nothing. Well, I got a reply to my initial email, but when I replied with the purpose of my quest...Nothing. I'm starting to question the quality of my begging-letter-writing. Well, if the lack of response to my job applications is anything to go by, I'm crap. He's depending on me, and I don't know how to do it. All suggestions gratefully received

Swallows in the nest

It is hard to believe that three weeks after the first swallow pics were taken they have already grown to this size. Squashed though they are, they have still not left the nest. If only humans could manage this sibling harmony.
Photo and text: Roger Morton
see Roger Morton's photographs at proud Chelsea 

Camel and the Gulf

This is the beginning of the Gulf of Eliat or the Gulf of Aquba depending on which side of the town you live in (Arab or Israeli). This Gulf ends in the Red Sea and is part of the Great African Rift - a desert above the waterline and a paradise below.
Cover photo and text by Roger Morton.

15 August 2009

Daily Life in Kabul by Mr Mwezi

It was just the other day when I wrote that Kabul was relatively safe leading up to the elections but a week is a long time in politics and we have had our first rocket attack in quite some time.
A total of 8 rockets were fired in the early hours of the morning a few days ago. Two people were injured but not seriously, I slept through it all. One landed less than 1km away and was apparently quite loud but not loud enough to wake me. My wife can testify to my sound sleeping as I never hear the children at night or maybe it’s just that she hears them first!
There has been an increase in activity with the elections less than a week away - even today 6 militants climbed up an unfinished building and launched rockets at the local government buildings at Pul-i-Alam, the capital of Logar province (50 kms to the south of Kabul). No one was hurt, except the militants! Strange how that sounds, it’s ok for people to not worry about the people who launched the attack because they wanted to cause death and destruction to others. Everyone has their own agendas, I suppose that’s why we have conflict!
The days are counting down until I can be reunited with my très beau family, only 2 months to go before I can hug my belle! Until then the work keeps me busy and keeps the days ticking over, tant mieux!
One day later
Don’t worry everything is ok. That was the closest rocket, the rest were spread over an 14km area. Kabul is surprisingly large. It doesn’t look big but when you start exploring the streets and trying to get to places it’s like a T.A.R.D.I.S (Dr Who). There seems to be a lot packed into this town. The population is around 4 million, I don’t know where they all are but they must be here.
I am working with mainly an ex-pat team consisting of Ozzies, British, Americans, Kiwis and South Africans. As we work different shifts and in different areas I see only a few of them. We do get a chance to talk but not for long and conversation is somewhat limited. Most people are counting down the days to their leave and talking about what they will do whilst on leave.
I do work with Afghan nationals as they are the main work force here. They are a big mix of people, most have returned after leaving for Pakistan or Iran during the Taliban rule. Because of this they are more knowledgeable regarding schooling and how the world works. They people that stayed are more traditional and set in their ways such as arranged marriages and females needing permission to go anywhere.
I enjoy hearing their stories but there are language problems. The ones which have the best grasp of English have usually worked with the Americans as interpreters since the invasion in 2001.They have been involved in quite fierce action during that time. Hence the reason they have left and decided to take on a less risky occupation.
There are some sad stories, one girl who is 18 is going to be forced into an arranged marriage with a 47 yr old man. Her friend was in a similar position and killed herself by self-immolation. This girl has not talked with me directly due to language and cultural issues, but a Nepalese has told me all about her position and how hard it is to escape. She would have to leave Kabul maybe even Afghanistan and not return. Her family will suffer due to the money for the wedding not being paid and the shame. She cannot get a passport without her father’s permission, even leaving the house has to be authorised. So even if she got some money together and ran away and got a bus somewhere, she would find it hard to cross the border without a passport and she would be vulnerable to other people taking advantage of her. I feel strange as I would like to help her but I can’t see how. This situation is not limited to this country alone.Being so close to the people involved gives you a different perspective. But people are much better off since the Taliban have left. Also as people here mix with people who have come back from different countries the younger generation will be more moderate in their views when they take over.
The Afghans are quite interested in the election process and watch all the TV interviews with vigour. I think they will all try to vote except the people in the areas where it is dangerous.Specific threats have been made against polling stations in the provinces.
My boys don’t really get involved with contacting me, I try to skype everyday but am limited to the hours we can talk as they are 7.5 hrs ahead of us. Usually when I skype the little one will read me his books from school and my daughter sings “Twinkle twinkle little star” and “Baa Baa black sheep” which is nice. My older boy chats to me about what he has been doing and I can look into the living room and see all their reactions. But I am only a pixelated face and a delayed voice to them so it hard for them to express themselves to me and show emotion. But it is nice to see them regularly.
My mother-in-law is back - she decided to cut her trip short as she had problems with language issues and it all became a bit much and M. thought it would be really nice to have some extra hands.
The food here is good, we have our own cooks. People complain but I don’t, I am putting on weight and need to go to the gym. Also a bonus is that I have stopped smoking now and don’t intend to start again. So the trip has been good for my health.
Mr Mwezi

The Trouble with Queens

Many of us are having problems with queen rearing: virgin queens fail to mate, disappear on mating flights or mate successfully only to become drone-layers within weeks. I had a good queen-rearing season and bred 6 new queens - all of which mated successfully - all produced fertile eggs and good brood-patterns over a number of frames. However, three of these queens were replaced by the bees within a month - which is highly abnormal. It is however part of a pattern being seen up and down the country. Normally a newly mated young queen would be good for at least two years, possibly three or even four (though these days most beekeepers try to replace their queens annually). However, many beekeepers are reporting that young, apparently vigorous and fertile queens are being killed by their own workers and replaced with new queens within a matter of weeks; this is highly abnormal behaviour and indicates that something is going terribly wrong.
My own hypothesis is that we are seeing the results of bio-accumulation of neo-nicotinoid pesticides in young queens which are affecting their behaviour in sub-lethal ways. French research by Dr Bonmatin at Montpelier University in 1998-99 revealed that the neo-nicotinoid pesticide Imidacloprid kills bees when they ingest it at levels of just 3-5 parts per billion (ppb)however, his team also found sub-lethal effects at far lower levels of contamination - a mere 0.1 ppb - an almost infinitessimally small level of poison. This independent research dramatically conflicted with that of Bayer- the manufacturers of Imidacloprid - who initially claimed that their new nerve-poison only killed bees at levels in excess of 50,000 ppb; they revised this downward to 10,000, then 5,000, then 1000 - and latterly - in the face of mounting evidence they have said that it kills bees at 50-100 ppb. Bonmatin's research still claims that it kills bees at 5 ppb.Why does this matter? border-glider if you are interested in reading more on this subject, take a look at http://beediary.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/a-queen-from-over-the-sea/